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Why Is the Government Collecting Your Biometric Data?

EFF's Jennifer Lynch discusses the expansion of biometric data collection, the growth of databases and the impact on increased surveillance.

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JL: In this scenario we don't know much about what the data-sharing is. We do know that several branches of federal agencies have what they call open source databases, so they're collecting publicly available information on Facebook, or on comments on the New York Times Web site, or whatever is publicly available. So they have databases that are designed to collect and sift through data and try and find threats.

They used this during President Obama's inauguration four years ago, they've used it to try to determine threats at the Olympics, so there are some good uses for this, but it's also not clear where this data is going and what it's being used for, especially since if you use Facebook there's a certain amount of data they will allow to be public, so, your name and a photograph. There's a lot of other data people will share in the world that they don't think is going to be sniffed up by the federal government. 

TG: I think the standard, law-enforcement argument here is that if you're not a bad guy, you've got nothing to worry about. How would you answer that? 

JL: That's the government's line, but I think we come back to the fact that we live in a democratic society and that's never been accepted as the way we want to live. If you go back in history and look at people who were surveilled by the FBI over the past century -- they're people like MLK, like the nuns who were activists in the politics of Central and South America. There are people accused of being communists for no other reason than they attended a meeting or they were friends with somebody.

All those people were surveilled, and it was determined that that's not the way we want to live and because of that the attorney general issued specific guidelines that restricted when the FBI could infiltrate meetings surreptitiously, when they could collect information on people, and I think that's really important for the society in which we live and it's a slippery slope. The more that we accept that we need to give up our civil liberties to protect ourselves, the less we live in a society that is the one that we want to live in. 

Tana Ganeva is AlterNet's managing editor. Follow her on Twitter or email her at

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